Some Characteristics of Hoaxes

How is it possible to know what is genuine and what is a hoax, among all these alleged "original documents"? In fact, there are many scientific methods which give us a high probability of sorting out the fakes from the real thing. Faking a biblical document is not an easy task. It requires great knowledge of languages and of ancient manuscripts. Hoaxes which may appear very "biblical" to the average reader are usually no match for the professionals.

Here are a few common facts about hoaxes which you don't need to be an expert in order to understand and use:

1. The manuscript is not available

An absolutely essential requirement for any credibility at all is that the alleged document is available to researchers. If you claim to have found a manuscript, you must produce it. We need to examine it scientifically and establish that it is indeed as old as you claim. In the absence of a manuscript, we only have the claims of the hoaxer to trust -- and the statements of a single person are not sufficient. In view of the many hoaxes that we know about, it is a reasonable scientific a priori assumption that any such claims are false.

There have been many inventive attempts by hoaxers to get around this problem.

It goes without saying that these explanations are obvious and feeble fabrications in order to escape a basic scholarly requirement.

2. The text only exists in modern translations

Very few fakes are written in an ancient language. I know of only four such. They are

Most hoaxers have chosen the easier path of only presenting a "translation". One may ask: if you did indeed have access to this ancient manuscript, why did you not photocopy it, photograph it, or write a copy in the original language? If you were able to produce a translation, you must have had access to the text for a prolonged period of time, more than enough to make such documentation. Thus, if the text only exists in alleged "translations" to modern languages, we can safely assume that this is the only version that ever existed.

3. Fantastic claims concerning the finding of the document

The genuine manuscript finds which have occurred during the last two centuries have always been surprising to the finders. The Dead Sea scrolls were found by an Arab shepherd boy. Nevertheless, the stories of the finds have always been plausible and the events surrounding them are not mysterious. Archaeologists are alerted to the find, the media write about it -- usually before the documents have been thoroughly examined -- and it usually takes several years before scholars are ready to draw any conclusions from the texts. With hoaxes, none of this applies. The finds are always done in mysterious, inaccessible places, often by persons who subsequently disappear; even more conveniently, these vanished people are sometimes said to have done the translation, saving the hoaxer any need to explain how he came to know ancient languages without studying them at any known university. No hoaxer ever owned a camera or had access to a photocopier or a telephone so he could alert scholars or media while the document was available. Isn't that convenient?

4. Anachronisms and stylistic errors

Don't let yourself be tricked by the "Biblical" style of an alleged document. It's easy to fake that, e.g. the Book of Mormon is patterned on the King James version of the Bible. Other mistakes are frequent, e.g. theological expressions which are post-biblical (e.g. "trinity"), animals that did not exist in ancient Palestine (apes, rabbits), the use of a horse as a beast of burden, the eating of foods which were only brought to Europe after the discovery of America. The use of churchbells and other liturgical practices which are known to be much later. All such errors can reveal a forgery.

5. Chapter and verse: a dead giveaway

We are used to seeing Bible texts divided into chapters and verses. However, none of the ancient manuscripts have this. They are written in continuous text without any numbers. The division into chapters was done in the 13th century by an English bishop, the division into verse was invented by a French bookprinter around 1550 AD. If an alleged document has chapters and verses, and the hoaxer fails to take on himself the responsibility for this arrangement, we can be sure that it's a fake.

6. Conspiracy theories

The purpose of most hoaxes is to challenge the Christian image of Jesus Christ. Since he is a historical person, ancient records could conceivably provide new information about him. It is not impossible that new manuscripts may be found in the future which can shed more light on the development of the religious beliefs concerning him. So far, those manuscripts that have come to light have strengthened the credibility of the New Testament. For instance, when scholars began to critically examine the New Testament in the 19th century, there was a wide consensus that the Gospel of John was much later than the other NT scriptures, probably 4th century. Many German professors saw their theories sink when a manuscript of this gospel from the early 2nd century was found...

What would happen if a genuine manuscript was found that contained "heretical" information about Jesus? Records contradicting the gospels and the teachings of Christianity? Hoaxers and cultists assume that the Church would automatically suppress it - destroy it or hide it from public view, or even assassinate those who had seen it. In fact, the opposite has already happened. Heretical manuscripts have been found. The so-called "Gospel of Thomas" is one, a 4th century copy of an older original (see separate article on this site). No attempt has been made by church authorities to suppress it.

In most cases, belief in conspiracy theories is an attempt to escape from reality. Conspiracy theories are attractive because they provide a simple explanation to all the things we worry about in this complex and often bewildering world. Somewhere, they say, there is a group of evil people who secretly control everything. The "powerful people" up there are fooling us with a false image of reality, designed to further their sinister plans. Conspiracy theories are also self-proving. So what if there is no evidence for a conspiracy? That only proves how extremely powerful the conspiracy is! In this, conspiracy theorists act like full-blown psychotics. All evidence against the existence of a conspiracy is discarded as part of the conspiracy. Meaning, reality does not matter. This is not science. It is a mental defect. As evidence for the genuineness of an alleged biblical manuscript, it is nonsense.